Hopes that Mars once had vast oceans of water and perhaps microbial life have suffered a setback.
A US space agency (Nasa) spacecraft has failed to find evidence that the Red Planet was once a warm, watery world like the Earth.
Scientists have been searching for decades for signs of water-related carbonate minerals on the Martian surface.
Mars Global Surveyor, which is orbiting the planet, has at last come up with the goods.
But it has found only traces of carbonates in dust, which probably came from the atmosphere rather than rocky outcrops deposited by oceans.
"What we don't see is massive regional concentrations of carbonates, like limestone," said Dr Joshua Bandfield, a planetary geologist at Arizona State University, Tempe. "We're not seeing the white cliffs of Dover or anything like that."
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Mars 'not a watery world'
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